TJ was the youngest of four tigers who were rescued in 2007 from a breeding facility in Center Hill Florida called Savage Kingdom. He is quite playful and loves to crash through all of the high grasses in his enclosure. TJ has a particular fascination with water and will splash in and out of his pools or the pond, when he is on vacation in the Vacation Rotation enclosure. He seems to delight in the way the light moves on the surface of splashing water.
Savage Kingdom was run by an ex circus performer named Robert Baudy who had been famous for his big cat act in the 1950’s. He boasted that the way you trained a big cat was to chain them to the wall and beat them without mercy until they learned that no matter how much they tried to retaliate, they could never succeed. Once they were broken they were safe to use in performances.
Times have changed, and so has public opinion about how to treat animals, but tiger taming hasn’t changed. Cats are routinely beaten, deprived of food and deprived of space in order to make them perform on cue. Tiger trainers have figured out that no one will pay to see an abused animal, so they make a big show of giving the cats kisses, pats on the head and treats, and tell the public that they only train using love, respect and positive reinforcement. It is a lie.
We do positive reinforcement and clicker training to get our cats to do things like lay down, show us their paws, etc. to make it easier for us to deal with their medical needs. At Big Cat Rescue the cats have the choice of doing the interaction with us and our vets, and if they don’t want to do it, they can walk away.
If the “show must go on” then you can bet the cats were abused behind the scenes to make them reliable performers on stage. Please never pay to see big cats perform.
Savage Kingdom Rescue: TJ, Bella, Modnic and Trucha
A hundred times or more a year Big Cat Rescue is contacted by someone trying to unload a tiger, lion, bobcat, serval or some other exotic cat who has outlived his usefulness. In most cases the people calling are those who have used the animals to support themselves, or to make themselves more popular, and now the cat no longer serves their needs. Then the cat has to go.
Big Cat Rescue can only take in a limited number of big cats each year because each cat is a 10-20 year commitment. Most of the cases do not meet Big Cat Rescue’s criteria for accepting a cat as they will not assist these irresponsible owners in continuing to breed and use animals by being a dumping ground for last year’s babies.
This case at Savage Kingdom was different. Robert Baudy was world renown for producing what are commonly referred to as “throw away tigers” because they are so often lame and cross eyed from the inbreeding that goes into producing the white tigers that will fetch a big price.
When USDA finally shut down the 84 year olds’ breeding activities in August of 2006 an era of abuse came much closer to an end. A friend of Baudy’s had managed to place all but four tigers by May 14, 2007. If she could not find a home for these last four tigers she was going to have them euthanized on May 18th because she could no longer afford the time and resources needed to care for the cats.
TJ, Bella, Modnic, and Trucha were the last four cats that needed a home and Big Cat Rescue stepped in to provide one. On May 18th, 2007, Rescuers transported the four to their new home at BCR. They now have spacious grassy enclosures with shrubs and trees, large mountain dens, and pools to cool off in.
Fatal Attractions – Tigers Unleashed, about TJ and Bella tigers: http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/fatal-attractions/videos/tigers-rescued-deleted-scene.htm
It was either late 1997 or maybe 1998 when a friend of mine walked into my office and said, “You have to see this!”
That led to a road trip to secretly meet with an elephant keeper who said that he just hated tigers and would do anything to get rid of them. He was angry because his well hidden plot of dirt, where used elephants go to disappear, had been taken over by a long row of circus wagons full of tigers. I could not believe my eyes when I saw circus wagon after wagon, each with a lone tiger and a water bowl and nothing else.
No shade, no toys, no place to lay except on the hot, hard floors of the iron barred cages. The keeper said the cats had been there for a couple of years because they wouldn’t perform any more and that USDA was all over them about the conditions, but nobody wanted to spend money on building a retirement center for them because, unlike the elephants, breeding them wasn’t as lucrative. There were plenty of back yard breeders who were using cubs for photo ops and then selling them to the circuses to be used.
That began 2 or 3 years of negotiations between me and the circus to get these cats out of the beast wagons and into our sanctuary. I’d just lost my husband and the courts had seized our assets because we didn’t know where he’d gone, or if he’d be back. His kids by a former wife didn’t want any more of “their money” being wasted on feeding and caring for lions, tigers and the other hundred or so exotic cats at the sanctuary. I had to learn how to ask for money and help because I could only access a limited allowance, which was a third of what it cost to actually run the rescue. There was no way I could afford to take the 20 tigers from the circus when I knew that each cat would cost me 7500.00 in just food and vet care (back then).
The negotiations ended with the agreement that the circus would build the cages and supply the food and vet care costs and I would take the cats who were currently sitting in Williston, FL and the rest of the tigers as they got ill or stopped performing until all 19 tigers and 1 leopard were here. The caveat was that I could not tell anyone the name of the circus or they could take the cats back. I held good to that promise because I shudder at the thought of where these cats could end up.
Just before Christmas in the year 2000 the first six tigers arrived: “the bengal” (because he never had a name and was just referred to by his breed), his brother, S.A.R.M.O.T.I., Nini, Axel, Buffy and Conan. We added the i to Bengal to give him a proper name of Bengali. Bengali and S.A.R.M.O.T.I. had been reported to have been born at the infamous Siegfried and Roy nightclub in Las Vegas, but because they were the “wrong” color (golden instead of white) they were handed off to the circus. They rode in a chariot behind horses, which had to be a torment to the horses, as well as the tigers, who were restrained (use your imagination for how, but I guarantee it wasn’t “positive reinforcement”) from doing what they would naturally do to horses.
Getting records from circuses and private owners always proves challenging. The paperwork they arrived with said Bengali had been born in 1995, but later, one of the circus vets said they had records on him going back to 1993. We discovered that back in 2013 when his brother S.A.R.M.O.T.I. died. Whether he was 5 or 7 when he arrived; he was still a youngster. Tigers usually don’t begin killing their owners and trainers until they are somewhere between 5 and 7, even though they can look full grown at a year or two. When Bengali arrived his trainers said he was treacherous and would surely kill someone, but as soon as he had 2,000 square feet of space to himself, with a pond, cave, trees, bushes and grass, he became one of the happiest and most beloved of tigers who ever stepped foot on Tampa soil.
It was clear, as I tried to walk off the morning’s events, and saw ALL of our volunteers and interns crying, from one end of this 67 acre refuge to the other, that Bengal was leaving a hole in our hearts that nothing would ever fill. Bengali’s health has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the past several years. He’s been treated for a recurring ear infection, and each time has bounced back, but a week or so ago he had a seizure and bit his tongue. After that he didn’t want to eat and we couldn’t get him to take his meds. Without his pain management meds, for all of his old cat issues, he felt worse. The worse he felt, the less inclined he was to eat or take his pills. When he had a second seizure and bit the other side of his tongue we knew that it was time to let him go. He was the last of the cats from that circus.
We don’t know if he’s 21 or 23, but in either event, it’s twice as long as tigers usually live. Bengali got to spend most of that surrounded by people who love him. As we kneeled beside him for his last breaths I noticed again the scars on his elbows from the years of pacing around in the tiny circus wagon. I couldn’t hold back the tears. None of us could. If you knew Bengali, then I know you are crying too.
Please don’t let his life in the circus, and that of all the cats who have lived and died in miserable little cages for the amusement of ignorant people, be in vain. Please take the pledge to never go to a circus that uses wild animals and help end the suffering. http://nocircustigers.com
More history of Bengali Tiger
A circus commissioned Big Cat Rescue to build him, as well as several other big cats, a 2,000 square foot enclosure with a den, pool, and lots of space to lay out by the lake and soak up the Florida sunshine. They could have sold him into the pet trade or worse, but instead they sent Bengali here.
Bengali used to ride on a horse drawn chariot in the circus. When he arrived we were told that he was very dangerous because he was so confrontational. It is amazing what a change in living conditions have done for this tiger. Since his days are no longer spent on the road living in a cramped transport crate, but rather playing with his giant red ball, soaking in his pool, napping high on top of his jungle gym platform, or chuffing at his visitors, he is a very happy tiger.
Bengali loves operant conditioning sessions. Operant conditioning is a form of training that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage natural behaviors such as “sit” and “down.” Being able to have cats like Bengali perform these behaviors on command allows our veterinarians to get a much closer and hands off look during routine examinations.
Several years ago Bengali became ill. He had been losing interest in food and was losing weight. Thanks to Bengali’s operant conditioning the vet was able to draw blood from his tail without having to sedate him. His keepers asked Bengali to lay down and kept his focus on food rewards during the entire procedure.
September 2014 Video: Natalia Borrego, a doctoral research student from the University of Miami, conducts a research experiment with Bengali and some of the other tigers around the sanctuary. Turns out, Bengali is one smart feline (but we already knew that)! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd1jyaymOhg
July 2013 Video: Independence Day at Big Cat Rescue! Watch Bengali, Shere Khan & China Doll create some purr-fect artwork to celebrate the 4th of July! *Using non-toxic paint and 4ft x 4ft canvases the tigers had a grrreat time making “art”! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNL-KeDlPAc
December 2008 Video: Bengali has a habit of “playing” with his water bowl which actually means desctroying it. His water bowl has been replaced a few times, watch this funny video to see how he keeps destroying his water bowl and what the staff has done to try to ‘fix’ the issue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1ro89JLu_I
Cameron the lion and Zabu the white tiger are Big Cat Rescue’s odd couple. They were both born at a run down roadside zoo in 2000 and were rescued in 2004.
At the New Hampshire zoo, Cameron had been raised with Zabu, the white tigress, with the hopes of cross breeding them and selling the resulting liger cubs.
People often hybridize lions and tigers because they are either trying to create a novelty that people will pay to come see or trying to avoid the law. Until recently, some state’s laws did not recognize a 500-pound cross between a lion and tiger to be either. Therefore, people would buy them and claim that laws against owning a lion or tiger did not apply to them. We were told that prior to Cameron’s rescue he had lost over 200 lbs. It was up to us to help turn his life around.
Since Cameron and Zabu were true companions, we had to do whatever we could to make a long life together possible for them. The first step was to build a very large enclosure fit for the two energetic big cats.
Next we spayed Zabu so they would not breed and produce any more cats for life in cages.
Over the years Cameron became more and more possessive of Zabu and would not allow keepers near the enclosure to clean or feed. Because Cameron’s behaviors were testosterone driven we had only two choices; separate him from Zabu forever or neuter him. The decision was easy, Cameron was neutered.
Several months later he lost his mane as a result. It does not seem to bother him though. Cameron’s mood has mellowed dramatically and he seems much more comfortable in the hot Florida summers without the extra 15 pounds of fur around his neck. He has even become much more playful since he no longer worries about everything that is going on around his enclosure. His favorite toy is a big yellow ring which he bats and pushes around his enclosure in the early morning and late afternoon. While it was sad to see Cameron lose his mane, it was completely worth it so that he could continue to live with his best friend Zabu.
While Cameron tries to sleep most of the day away (as lions do in the wild), Zabu is extremely energetic and is always pestering him to play. She’ll often give up on him and just run and jump and play with her big red Planet Ball. Of course, that’s after she’s tired of playfully stalking her keepers or trying to spray the groups of visitors that stop by everyday.
Here are some more pages you can find information, photos, videos, and stories about Cameron:
Keisha was the second generation of tigers born at that facility and some reports state than five generations were born there over the years.
Keisha is missing a portion of her ear and her entire tail. JnK volunteers reported that she lost both to two lions that shared a common wall with her. It is unknown if she received veterinary care for these injuries or was left that way and luckily survived. All over the compound the bears and big cats shared common walls where they could easily reach through and injure or kill each other.
Despite the first fourteen years of her life being a horrible experience that no animal should have had to endure Keisha’s spirit was never broken. She is full of life and very outgoing. She loves Zeus and once he is neutered we hope to introduce the two.
One of the top experience with Keisha since her arrival was her very first Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Keepers stood by in awe as Keisha pounced around her enclosure as happy as could be with the big bird in her mouth. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to play with it or eat it so she did both for hours. Being witness to such joy from an animal that has seen so much suffering makes the long hours and hard work all worth while.
Keisha the tiger was born in 2000 at a pseudo sanctuary in Sinclairville, NY called JnK’s Call of the Wild. While the website proclaimed to be a sanctuary, in fact, all but one of the 11 tigers had been bred for use as pay to play props. According to volunteers, Zeus was the son of the original female, Kimba, and then was bred back to his mother to create the other 9 tigers, including Keisha. This is commonly done on purpose to create white tigers, which are the result of severe inbreeding.
What we saw during the rescue was unimaginable suffering and conditions that clearly threatened everyone in the area. JnK had a pile of citations for not allowing inspectors onto the property, but in many cases those are considered by the bad guys to be far less incriminating than actually answering the gate and letting inspectors see what they are doing.
The NY state attorney’s office decided to send a message to all of the backyard breeders, dealers and pseudo sanctuaries that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the danger that these facilities pose to the public and launched the biggest seizure of wild animals in New York’s history. With the help of IFAW and several sanctuaries 11 tigers, 3 lions, 3 bears, and 2 wolves were rescued that day in May of 2014.
Keisha only has half an ear and a little bobbed tail. We think she lost them to the lions who lived in the cage next door to her in NY. All over the compound the bears and big cats shared common walls where they could easily reach through and injure or kill each other.
Big Cat Rescue had gone to NY expecting to bring home four of the tigers, but one had passed away before we got there and no one seemed to know when or how. The other tiger, who was Keisha and Zeus’ mom, was a 20 year old tigress named Kimba. She was in such bad condition that we were not able to save her, but at least she died here in comfort, surrounded by love.
Maybe the worst thing about the entire situation in NY was that it is typical of how big cats are treated in America. You can put an end to that by never paying to see or touch a cub.
The romance didn’t last long. Keisha is just too playful and pounce-y and just scared Zeus half to death so much of the time that we had to separate them. They live close to each other, but have their own space to live in peace.
According to JnK volunteers, Zeus was the son of the original female, Kimba. He was bred back to his mother to create the other nine tigers, including Keisha. This is commonly done on purpose to create white tigers, which are the result of severe inbreeding.
Zeus suffered from an eye injury that would later be diagnosed as a luxated lens. He had been this way for over a year and never received any treatment. Because Zeus was so malnourished upon his arrival we could not perform surgery until he had gained some weight and his overall health stabilized.
After months of specially prepared diets Zeus was finally in a healthy enough state to sedate. An eye specialist examined his eye and discovered that what we thought was his good eye actually had very bad cataracts that limited his vision in that eye tremendously.
The eye with the luxated lens had more vision, but also had an ulcer on the surface. The decision was made to repair the ulcer and see if that was the cause of his pain. If his eye continues to be a source of discomfort it will be removed which will essentially blind him.
While Zeus’ underwent this eye surgery he was also neutered with the hopes that he and Keisha can live with one another. They both seem very interested in the other and pine for each other at the sides of their enclosures.
Zeus and Keisha Tiger Vacation Together
The romance didn’t last long. Keisha is just too playful and pounce-y and just scared Zeus half to death so much of the time that we had to separate them. They live close to each other, but have their own space to live in peace.
Zeus the tiger was born at a pseudo sanctuary in Sinclairville, NY called JnK’s Call of the Wild in 1996.
He was saved by Big Cat Rescue in May 2014 when the NY state attorney’s office decided to send a message to all of the backyard breeders, dealers and pseudo sanctuaries that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the danger that these facilities pose to the public and launched the biggest seizure of wild animals in New York’s history.
Most states ban the private possession of lions and tigers, but exempt anyone with a USDA license. That license is far too easy to get and nearly impossible to have revoked, but conditions were so bad at Zeus’ former home that the license had been cancelled and it took the combined efforts of IFAW and a number of sanctuaries to place all of the big cats, bears and wolves.
The day he was rescued, after months of starving, Zeus RAN down the length of his cage, chasing Big Cat Rescue’s Operations Manager, who was racing (outside the cage) toward the beast wagon with a piece of meat. He would do anything for just a morsel of food, so loading him took no time at all. Zeus was less than half the weight he should have been and his coat was ragged from the poor diet and filthy conditions.
As soon as Zeus arrived at Big Cat Rescue he knew he had found paradise. While the other tigers were being unloaded at the sanctuary, Zeus checked out his pool, all of the space, toys and great napping spots. He has been ever so grateful to his keepers and a joy to be around. It is because of people like you that Zeus will never go hungry again.
When Big Cat Rescue saved Zeus the tiger from starving to death at a backyard zoo a few months ago, we knew that he would need a lot of vet care to bring him back to health, but first we had to fatten him up enough that he would survive the surgeries.Today we neutered him and began the process to try and save whatever vision he has left.We are forever grateful to YOU, our viewers, and our wonderful vet team, including Dr. Tammy Miller, Dr. Liz Wynn, Dr. Justin Boorstein, Dr. Petterson & crew.
Zeus Goes on Vacation!
Thank you everyone who make these kinds of days possible.
Male DOB 1/1/03
Caravel (Caracal / Serval Hybrid)
Meet Jo Jo the Caracal Serval Hybrid
I first met JoJo the Caracal / Serval hybrid at the South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in 2005 after a hurricane had taken down the perimeter fencing and dumped piles of deadfall on the cages.
The owner, Dirk Neugebohm, had ended up in the hospital with a heart attack from trying to clean the mess up by himself.
He wrote from what he thought was his deathbed back then to anyone and everyone he could think of asking for help; and asking for help was not something that came easily to this hard working German.
What we found, when Howard and I visited, was a man who was way in over his head. Donations were almost non existent, the cages were old, dilapidated, small and concrete floored. The freezer had been damaged and he had lost his food supply, so we sent food and volunteers to help him clean up and rebuild.
The tiger back then was Sinbad, who lived in what is commonly used for housing parrots. An oval corn crib cage with a metal roof. Sinbad died recently after a snake bite, leaving Krishna, pictured, as the only remaining tiger.
We had a donor and a sanctuary (Safe Haven in NV) that were willing to take Krishna, but we were told that the Florida Wildlife Commission had found someone less than 6 miles away to take him.
Dirk managed to keep his sanctuary afloat, if just barely, for the next 8 years, but a couple days ago one of his volunteers, Vickie Saez, who we had been helping for the past couple of years with infrastructure and social networking, contacted us to say that Dirk was dying of brain cancer in the hospital and that she had convinced him to let the animals go to other homes. She said the Florida Wildlife Commission had arranged for most of the homes, but that Dirk was very happy that we could take JoJo. Our sweet Caracal, Rose, had died July 31st and her cage was empty.
We were told that all of the other cats had new homes waiting, except for Nola the cougar, but she was very ill. We offered to pay a vet to do blood work on her to make sure that she was not contagious. We were concerned because she had a history of some very contagious diseases, which had left her severely debilitated. What concerned us was that her caretaker said she looked bloated.
A vet had arrived to help with the transfer of two leopards to a place in Jupiter. He sedated Nola to see what was wrong.
We are told that he palpitated three melon sized tumors in her abdomen and that with every touch of her belly she exuded foamy blood from her nose and anus. He was sure that there was no hope for her and humanely euthanized her.
This photo was Nola back in 2011. While we were sad that we would not be able to give Nola a new home here at Big Cat Rescue we are glad that she is not suffering any more.
JoJo at Big Cat Rescue
JoJo has arrived at Big Cat Rescue and settled in nicely. It is quite possibly his first time to walk on the soft earth.
His cage has been a small (maybe 60 square feet) of concrete and chain link for at least 8 years and probably longer. He is thought to be about 10 years old. Sometimes breeders hybridize exotic cats because there are no laws on the books that regulate them, but in Florida, the inspectors say, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck; it’s a duck.”
JoJo now has 1,200 square feet of earth, bushes, trees and grass.
He really likes the grass. Are you hearing the Beetles lyric, “JoJo left his home in Homestead-Miami looking for some Florida grass?”